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The BEST Mac & Cheese

Let’s learn how to make the best mac and cheese ever for Thanksgiving. It’s so ooey and goeey on the inside and then perfectly golden and crispy on the outside – it’s the best of both worlds!

What You Will Need

  • Pasta: I used elbow macaroni which is the traditional style but feel free to use any shape you like. You can use small or large elbow.
  • Butter: This is going to add a beautiful rich taste to this Mac and cheese and is half of what maxes a roux.
  • Flour: All purpose flour! Together with the butter, we’ll make a roux which acts as a thickener for the cheese sauce.
  • Half & Half: This is my favorite dairy to use whenever I make mac and cheese. It’s not too rich like heavy cream but it adds a lot more creaminess compared to milk. Make sure it’s room temperature or warm but NOT cold.
  • Mustard Powder: The secret ingredient you should always add to your Mac and cheese. The acidity in the mustard helps cut through the fat. You can find it in the spice section of any major grocery store. Otherwise, swap it for 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of Dijon or yellow mustard to taste or omit it.  
  • Garlic Powder: Just because garlic enhances everything! You can also minced garlic but make sure to saute it first before adding.
  • Salt: When adding salt, keep in mind that cheese has salt in it. You can also use salted butter but just add salt and taste as you go.
  • Black Pepper: Always a must!
  • Nutmeg: This is also optional but trust me, a dash of it goes a long way to balance the tangy cheese flavor and all the fats.
  • Cayenne Powder: A little sprinkle makes all the difference. It does not make this spicy – it just balances the flavors.
  • Smoked Paprika: Adds a beautiful rich color and flavor to this mac and cheese.
  • Cream Cheese: I love adding a little to my Mac and cheese – just trust the process.
  • Sharp Cheddar Cheese: Make sure to buy it as a block and grate it yourself! It will melt a lot better compared to pre-shredded.
  • Colby Jack Cheese: Feel free to swap this for Monterrey jack or white cheddar. I like using colby because it has a mild flavor while still having that beautiful yellow color.
  • Smoked Gouda: Grate it yourself fresh and the rich flavor it adds to this is incredible. A good substitute would be gruyere. 

How To Make It

There are four basic parts to making mac and cheese from scratch!

1. The first step is to start by maxing a roux. If you’re not familiar with a roux, it’s flour and fat cooked together to thicken sauces. To a sauce pan or pot over medium heat, add the butter and once melted, whisk in the flour. Whisk for 1 to 2 minutes until bubbly and golden. 

2. The second step is to add the dairy (half and half), spices, and cream cheese and whisk together until smooth and creamy. Once it starts to bubble, take off the heat. Add the cheese and whisk until all of it is melted and smooth.

3. The third part is to cook your pasta in salted water according to package directions and then toss it into sauce. I like to cook it on the side as I make the sauce so it’s all ready at the same time.

4. Cover the top with a blend of all three cheeses and add a sprinkle of smoked paprika and cayenne powder on top. Pop in the oven to bake and then turn to broil to crisp up the top.

The BEST Macaroni & Cheese

Let's learn how to make the best mac and cheese ever for Thanksgiving. It's so ooey and goeey on the inside and then perfectly golden and crispy on the outside - it's the best of both worlds!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American


  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 4 cups half and half room temp or warm
  • 3 tablespoons cream cheese room temp
  • 1 1/2 cup sharp cheddar shredded
  • 1 cup Colby jack shredded
  • 1/2 cup smoked gouda shredded
  • more cheese for topping
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper more to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt to taste
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of cayenne
  • optional: chopped parsley and grated parmesan on top


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook a minute below al dente. The pasta will finish cooking in the oven.
  • Heat a saucepan or pot over medium heat. Add the butter. Once melted, whisk in the flour and cook 1 minute until it just starts to bubble and turns a yellow golden color.
  • Pour in the half and half slowly and whisk continuously until smooth. Then add the dry mustard powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, nutmeg, cayenne powder if using, salt, and cream cheese. Whisk together until smooth. Continue to cook the sauce for 3 to 4 minutes or until it thickens.
  • Reduce the heat to low or take off the heat and add the sharp cheddar, Colby jack, and smoked gouda. Whisk together until there are no more clumps and the sauce is completely smooth. Taste and adjust anything to your liking.
  • Once the pasta is done cooking, drain it and toss it into the sauce immediately. Mix together in a large baking dish.
  • Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Then turn to broil for a few minutes just until the top is golden and crispy - make sure to monitor it closely!
  • Top it off with chopped parsley and grated parmesan and enjoy!
Keyword fall recipe, mac and cheese, thanksgiving recipe
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


    • Marisa S.
    • November 25, 2021

    5 stars
    10/10 Cheesy amazing goodness. This is my second time making it, and it is SOOOO good. My favorite baked Mac I’ve ever made. The roux is so flavorful. So happy I found this for the holidays. This will be my go-to Mac recipe.

    • Leigh Jones
    • December 3, 2021

    5 stars
    PHENOMENAL. I followed the recipe exactly and it turned out great. The spices mellow out the mix so that the cheese isn’t too strong, and the portions of everything else provide just the right amount of creaminess. Also, the broiled layer adds the perfect crunch. Will definitely keep this recipe around for the future!

    • Afroditi
    • March 14, 2022

    5 stars

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